Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on July 25, 2014

in Inequality, Taxes

… is from page 52 of the 1987 Liberty Fund edition of Helmut Schoeck’s excellent 1966 volume, Envy; it occurs in a section of the book where Schoeck discusses the practice of many primitive peoples to use black magic against those whose positions and possessions they envied:

The false premise that one man’s gain necessarily involves the others’ loss is still indulged in by some modern economic theorists; while these do not make use of black magic, they often have recourse to methods no less absurd, such as, for instance, a special kind of tax which ends up by damaging the very people it was supposed to help.

Many of the blackboard derivations (often devised by “smart lads”) that appear to us moderns to be indisputably scientific and rational and objective are not so far removed as we think from the irrationality, the uncivilized play of emotions, and the idiotic incantations of our pre-scientific, primitive ancestors.

The economist or bureaucrat who devises taxes to make incomes or wealth more equal, or to ‘internalize’ this negative externality or to encourage that positive externality, are much much less different than we think from ancient sorcerers poking pins into voodoo dolls – the biggest difference being that today’s sorcerers actually do harm other people with their dark arts, and frequently (as Schoeck points out) the very people that their sorcery is meant to help.

Resort to magic remains surprisingly prevalent in the social sciences.

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